Ukraine is revisiting the painful question of whether to honor nationalist insurgents who briefly sided with the Nazis and are accused of killing Jews during World War II.
Then part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was overrun by Nazis before the Soviets drove them out in 1944. Millions died on the front line and during the occupation. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army initially collaborated with the Nazis, believing Hitler would grant Ukraine independence, but then went on to fight both Nazi forces and the Red Army. Many Jewish groups and scholars accuse the insurgents of staging pogroms and murdering Jews.
A court is preparing to rule on whether Roman Shukhevych, the head of the insurgent army, deserves the posthumous Hero of Ukraine award, the country's top honor given to cultural, sports and other prominent figures. The court is considering a suit by a lawyer, who argues that Shukhevych cannot be called a "hero of Ukraine," since Ukraine did not exist as an independent country during his time.
The question of how to treat the partisans has polarized Ukraine, with the nationalist west of the country, where they were mainly based, seeing them as heroes and the Russian-leaning east condemning them as traitors. Supporters and opponents of the insurgent army have staged violent clashes in recent years in Kiev during various historical commemorations.
Former President Viktor Yushchenko had campaigned to honor the insurgent fighters the same way as Soviet army veterans and decreed to posthumously name Shukhevych and another insurgent leader, Stepan Bandera, national heroes.
The decisions caused an outcry from Jewish organizations.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights group, said last year that Bandera's followers were linked to the deaths of thousands of Jews.
Current President Viktor Yanukovych, who has restored friendly ties with Moscow, made it clear he disagreed with his predecessor. In a terse statement on his website yesterday, he reminded the public that a regional court last year had revoked the national hero title from Bandera, apparently suggesting the same approach holds true for Shukhevych.